By M Bilal Lakhani
Naya Pakistan feels like an arranged marriage where the honeymoon isn’t going as planned. Before the wedding, the groom paints a beautiful picture of what married life will look like and the bride’s expectations are so high that the only place to go now is downwards. What’s surprising isn’t the groom’s inability to deliver on his promises fast. That was expected. What’s surprising is the groom’s spectacular failure to manage expectations the morning after the wedding.
A flood of unverified information began to spread like wildfire on Whatsapp after Imran Khan’s inauguration. ‘Ban on official meals during meetings,’ screamed one. ‘Government to make Saturday a working day,’ proclaimed another. Hungry for quick wins, PTI’s PR machine went into over drive to project how quickly they can turn the country around. And then came helicopter gate at Rs55 an hour.
The transition from being single to being married — or from opposition to government — hasn’t been kind on Imran Khan or his team. They promised 10 million jobs but the only jobs they seem to be creating are for trolls on social media. Now, before someone says the word lifafa, I have to declare that I barely received any lifafas at my own wedding. I was a PTI voter in 2013. I couldn’t get myself to support PTI in 2018 because I wanted to break the precedent of rishta walay uncles deciding our collective fate. When PTI won by such an overwhelming mandate though, I wanted to respect their win, just like I respected PML-N’s mandate in 2013, even though I didn’t vote for them.
I want PTI to succeed. No one expects Pakistan’s problems to be solved in a few days but PTI can do better at communicating their vision, glide path and check points for progress in Naya Pakistan. For example, Asad Umar needs to stop hiding under whatever rock or container he’s taking shelter in and at least begin to outline how he plans to revitalise the economy and rescue the rupee from a looming foreign exchange crisis.
PTI’s dominant narrative of austerity isn’t gaining traction. Many memes and helicopter experts have been made at Fawad Chaudhry’s expense. But Fawad’s real crime isn’t a slip up on live television while being overworked and new to his job (remember your first week in a new job?). Fawad’s real crime is the inability to pivot PTI’s narrative away from austerity (or flip flopping on minority rights) to a vision for the future of the country and the steps we’ll take to get there.
For example, to Fawad’s remarkable credit, we are seeing PTV present the opposition’s view point and criticising the government. This is a small but revolutionary leap forward. These are the type of substantive reforms PTI should anchor their communications on versus flashy, austerity measures that set off tweet storms when they’re not actually followed.
It will take time for Naya Pakistan to be built, after decades of mafia rule by those who treated politics like a business venture. The policies of change will be painful (cue gas and electricity prices going up) and slow to produce results. What will create the space for these policies to be supported by the general public is the narrative of change that Fawad is able to craft. That narrative is missing from our conversation right now. The truth is that it’s not our elected leaders but the people of Pakistan who will need to get used to austerity in the coming years to build a better future for our children. PTI needs to educate us on why these are necessary sacrifices and how we can objectively measure if we’re on the right track. PTI’s honeymoon won’t last forever. It must communicate the sacrifices and rewards of Naya Pakistan’s social contract sooner rather than later.
Published in The Express Tribune